Safe in the Sun?
Warmer weather finally arrived (more or less) and we scramble to get outside for some sunshine and fresh air. Our pathetically low Vitamin D levels delight in the sun exposure. Our moods perk up, life becomes easier, and we embrace all that the universe offers us. (Well…perhaps I exaggerate, but I had acupuncture yesterday, so I feel unusually ‘Zen’ today.)
However, while I hate to act as the buzz-kill, I’ll risk it on behalf of preserving your skin’s health. Ladies, it’s time for our annual ‘safe sun’ chat.
Before venturing any further, let me state the obvious – wear a daily sunscreen, preferably one with a SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15, or more. And, a note of caution – many dermatologists believe there is no such thing as ‘safe sun’ time and prefer you wear a SPF of 30+ daily and avoid the sun as much as possible. I’m a bit more realistic than that.
Okay, with that out of the way, let me set the record straight on some of your most common sun questions:
What does broad-spectrum sunscreen mean?
There are two types of rays that attack the skin. The UVA ray is the AGING ray—it penetrates into the dermis of the skin and breaks down our collagen and elastin fibers accelerating premature aging. You don’t see the damage that night – you see it in 10-12 years. It appears in the form of a wrinkle, a sunspot, or loose skin. The more UVA rays you absorb, the more damage results….down the road…in 10-12 years…when you least expect it…or want it.
The UVB ray is the BURNING ray – it attacks the uppermost surface of our skin (epidermis) prompting our bodies to produce melanin. The melanin acts as a defense system desperately trying to fend off a burn. Once we tap out our melanin supply, the skin begins to burn and we lose the battle. We are now the proud owner of a remarkably red sunburn. (Bummer.)
A broad-spectrum sunscreen is protecting us from both the UVA and the UVB rays TO A POINT. Think of it like smoking a filtered cigarette versus a non-filtered. Neither is great for you, but the former is the lesser of two evils.
So, do I just live my life as a pale, hermit who comes out after sundown?
No – that’s creepy. This just means you employ some common sense when enjoying the great outdoors. Clearly, fair skin people possess less melanin to begin with, leaving them with a weaker defense system to fight off a burn. Wear a higher number (50+) if you’ll be outside for an extended period. Plus, bring a hat, shades, and a cover-up. If your skin starts to feel taught, tight, or sensitive, get out of the sun ASAP.
Women of color own more melanin, so they have a stronger defense mechanism, and age more gracefully than fair skin folks. (Think, Sophia Loren, or Lena Horne.) However, women of color can tan, or burn if precautions aren’t taken. Wear a SPF 15+ if you’re out for an extended period of time. Plus, follow the same advice; bring a hat, wear shades, and cover-up. If you feel the slightest bit of a burn, get out of the sun.
What else do I need to know to protect my skin?
There is no such thing as a complete sunblock, or a waterproof sunscreen. I don’t care what the label says. Reapply sunscreen liberally and often. Derms recommend applying at least a shot glass full of sunscreen with reapplication every 30-45 minutes. (Don’t ask me what brain trust decided to use shot glasses as the standard of measure for sunscreen, but whatever!)
Certain medications and skincare products make our skin more sun-sensitive. Bump up your sunscreen if you take medications, use skincare products with retinols, or anything with glycolic, alpha, or beta hydroxy acids. If goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – if you’re using any type of dark spot reducing product, for the love of GOD, stay out of the sun! The sun caused the hyper-pigmentation in the first place. You’ll undo any and all progress you made in reducing the hyper-pigmentation by hanging out at the pool.
Alcohol (as in drinking it) and sun don’t mix well! The alcohol dilates our capillaries, as does sun exposure, which means we burn easier, burst little blood vessels, lose track of time, and usually end up with a nasty hangover and sunburn. (UG!)
Now you’re ready to go, Career Girls! Grab your sunscreen, shades, hat and a cover-up, and let’s hit the great outdoors!